Opening doors

When I get asked to give talks its one of the scariest things and takes me on a roller coaster ride.

My first question is why have they asked me? And the cynic in me replies “because they need to fill a slot and you’re an easy ask“. But maybe, just maybe, its because its a topic I know about and the person that’s asked knows that I can do a half decent job of it.

My first real worry then is what on earth have I got to say that anyone would want to listen to. I’m no one special. I haven’t done anything earth shattering brilliant or enlightening or entertaining. No one is going to want to hear me spout on about xyz when there are far more interesting and entertaining people who could do it.

Then there’s the “what am I actually going to talk about“. The latest ask hasn’t been too specific yet so I’ve asked the question. I could redo a talk I’ve given on a specific topic before, so I won’t have to prepare anything new, or do they want something different?

Then there’s the “how long have I got”? This is where, once I’ve written my talk I’ll time it to make sure it fits and I get all the main points across. I’ll read and re-read through it multiple times, including immediately before delivering it.

Then there’s the “oh my god, how many people will turn up? Supposing no one does?” Well, that’s not really under my control to do anything about. The one good thing about doing talks over Zoom is that you can change the view so you don’t have to see everyone’s faces and therefore don’t know if there’s one or one hundred people watching. Of course the trouble with doing that is then you miss out on any visual cues from the audience, like wanting to ask a question or wanting you to get a move on and shut up.

I generally don’t get nervous about giving talks, its the bit afterwards. Whilst I’m talking I know what I’m going to say, I’m well prepared, I’m in control. I’ve been to the loo, I’ve got a glass of water handy. But at the end when the facilitator opens things up to questions, that’s when I start getting nervous. What if someone asks a question I don’t know the answer to? Or worse still, I don’t even understand the question? The former can be resolved quite easily with a straight forward ,”you know, I don’t know the answer to that but I’m going to go away and find out, then I’ll let you know”. That’s all good if you actually do that, which I always make a point of on the rare occasions it happens. If I don’t even understand the question I’m not beyond asking them to rephrase it. Particularly if its quite a technical question, I’ll make a joke of it and ask them to dumb it down for those like me who are not technically minded.

The thing about giving talks is that they can open doors to lots of opportunity. An opportunity to meet new people, to listen to their questions and think about things from their perspective, to get involved in something else as a spin off, to be heard by someone who wants you to give your talk to a different group and start opening doors again with another different audience.

As much as I dread doing it for all the reasons above and want to say no, the chance of more doors opening and more new experiences happening is too great an attraction, however flattering the ask was in the first place.


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